4th boot camp expands to train more nurses in sickle cell care

2 sessions in Tennessee this year offer specialized knowledge of the disease

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by Steve Bryson, PhD |

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A nurse training program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is expanding to train more nurses to care for people with sickle cell disease (SCD).

Called the Sickle Cell Boot Camp to Promote Nursing Excellence Nationally and Globally Utilizing a Train the Trainer Model, the free program provides registered nurses with training to address gaps in healthcare caused by a lack of sickle cell education in nursing schools.

The boot camp’s fourth edition will count with two separate five-day sessions, slated for April 8-12 and Sept. 9-13. The April meeting will admit more than 30 registered nurses who provide care and develop nursing policies for sickle cell patients, bringing the total number of nurses educated in sickle cell care to 120.

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“Patients with SCD can rapidly develop life-threatening complications, some of which are unique to SCD,” Sara Day, PhD, a professor and assistant dean for the Center for Community and Global Partnerships at the UTHSC, said in a university press release.

“If nurses do not have the specialized knowledge and assessment skills to detect these symptoms early, the patient’s condition often escalates and can result in death,” Day said.

While the deadline for the April session has passed, applications for the September boot camp will open in June. This year’s camp is being hosted by the UTHSC College of Nursing and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which, like UTHSC, is in Memphis, Tennessee. Meals, transportation, and accommodations will be provided.

The camps’ history, curriculum, and funding

Established in 2022 as a pilot program, the sickle cell boot camp is the first national intensive nursing program. It is geared toward bedside and clinic nurses, nurse managers and administrators, and academic nurses focusing on sickle cell.

Boot camp curriculum centers around theory and critical skills and integrates evidence-based practices, skills, attitudes, and values. Age-based sickle cell complications, ranging from birth to adulthood, are also explored. Content includes the train-the-trainer model, which focuses on adult learning principles to “empower nurses” to become SCD educators at their institutions.

The first three boot camps were funded by grants from Global Blood Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company recently acquired by Pfizer. It developed Oxbryta (voxelotor), an approved oral sickle cell therapy.

A $364,502 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports the upcoming sessions of the boot camp. These funds will also provide specialized education to 240 healthcare professionals in the Mid-South Delta region over a two-year period.

The Mid-South region, which includes Tennessee and surrounding areas, has about 2,000 of the 100,000 sickle cell patients living in the U.S. According to data from newborn screening programs, Mississippi has the second-highest incidence of sickle cell among infants nationwide.

“We are excited to have had the opportunity to partner with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center on a Delta Health Care Services Grant to provide funds for technical assistance and training to combat sickle cell disease in the Delta Region,” said upcoming boot camp speaker Arlisa Armstrong, the Tennessee rural development state director for the USDA.

“These investments are foundational to a healthy society and vibrant rural communities,” Armstrong said. “We know that when we invest in these projects, we build opportunity and prosperity for the people who call rural communities home.”

A shorter sickle cell boot camp for healthcare providers will be held June 17-18 in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. Funded by a $3.98 million grant from the Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA), the two-day program will attract more than 20 providers to Memphis for intensive instruction. The grant also supports the UTHSC Nursing Mobile Health Unit for patients in Lauderdale and Lake counties.

“Partnering with UT Health Science Center and contributing to the development and sponsorship of this program has been extremely gratifying and productive,” said Yvonne Carroll, director of patient services for the department of hematology at St. Jude. “More than 15 St. Jude nurses have completed the course so far, and we anticipate even greater attendance in future sessions.”